(The Root) —
“My boyfriend invited me to a cookout with his family at his mother’s house over the weekend. It started off OK, but he got into a heated argument — yelling, cursing and all — with some of his family about an ongoing family issue. He was wrong, and I flatly told him so. He got mad at me and walked out and went to his car. He was my ride, so I had no choice but to follow. We had plans to do something after the cookout, but instead he took me home. I texted him when I finally cooled off, and he responded that he needed ‘time to himself.’ He’s mad at me like I did something wrong. What do I do now?” –P.T.
Both of you played a part in this unfortunate minidrama, but you can take the initiative to fix this situation by apologizing for your role in it.
You did do something wrong. Your boyfriend’s sudden need for “time to himself” is likely as much about whatever led to a heated argument at a family function as it is your not having his back while it was going on. That’s a big no-no.
There’s really no question as to whether it’s right for two family members to yell at each other at a cookout, but if that’s how the family gets down, so be it. There’s nothing you can do to change that dynamic. And maybe you are entirely right that he was dead wrong about whatever the issue was. But there was a time and a place to tell him that — namely in a private conversation when you were in the car, or after he had time to calm down and receive a rational assessment. Siding against him on a serious issue — which, clearly, it was to the people arguing, or else they wouldn’t, well, be arguing about it in public, in front of family — was a bad move.
In my thousands of conversations with folks over the years, nearly all of them have said that the most important trait in a partner (or a friend) is loyalty. It’s imperative for them to feel that when the chips are down, their partner operates with them in a sort of “me and you against the world” mindset.
When you sided with his family in front of them, you weakened his stance on the issue. But perhaps more important, he already felt maligned by them — hence the argument — and now by you, too. It was him, alone, against his family, who he felt were doing wrong by him.
Another thing: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received from the long-married elders is to mind your own family business and let your partner mind his. As tempting as it may be to jump into an argument and cut to the bottom line to “solve” an ongoing family issue, keep in mind that family quarrels can go way back — generations, even.
Also, blood is thicker than water. They may be able to duke it out with one another and move on. You, nonrelative, aren’t so likely to be that lucky.